Peek Into Our Christmas: A Christmas Eve Ornament Tradition

Growing up I was always jealous of families that opened gifts on Christmas Eve. My brother-in-law, for instance, was able to pick out one gift to open before bed. As I recall, there were no rules. You could shake. You could squeeze. And yes, you could even pick the biggest box from under the tree. But I had to content myself with sitting around the tree as a family, singing Christmas carols together and shaking the gifts to guess the contents (a scene my husband describes as a ‘Norman Rockwell Christmas’). In short – I had a pretty good life. But I did like to gripe about not being allowed even one present on Christmas Eve.

Though I adored Christmas as a child, and have nothing but fond memories of the experience, one of my favourite realizations as a newlywed was that we had the chance to start our own traditions. Many of them bear a distinct resemblance to traditions from my childhood but with a twist. For example, I grew up with homemade pizza on homemade crust for Christmas Eve supper; now we make donair pizzas on store-bought Naan bread.

But one of my favourite traditions is opening a gift on Christmas Eve. We’ve managed to escape the potential letdown of getting your “big” present before the excitement of Christmas Day. In fact, the kids are giddy with excitement even though they know exactly what they’re getting – a new ornament.

We started this tradition without realizing it. Our first Christmas after getting engaged, I traveled to spend the holiday with John and his family. He was away working when I arrived and had left a welcome package for me, complete with a small Christmas ornament. In honour of our upcoming nuptials, I had purchased him a silver “F” at a local pharmacy. Though we never purposefully set out to do so (or at least I don’t recall a discussion on this topic) we just kept on exchanging ornaments.

And when kids arrived, they joined in the fun.

Some years we put a lot of thought into the ornament. When we visited Australia together I bought an ornament of two koalas in a gumnut tree; the year Abby learned to skate she got a glass figure skater. Last year John got a blown glass sushi roll, another year a surfer mouse (I looked through a dozen at a local store to find the one that looked the happiest – please tell me other people do this too with dolls/ornaments/stuffed animals!?).

Other years, it might not have a sentimental backstory (the house below, Abby’s ornament last year, just looked really sweet and inviting to me – a miniature fairytale Christmas setting).

Years ago my best friend from university got married and one of her wedding gifts was a special box filled with Christmas ornaments. Her grandmother had purchased an ornament for every year she had been alive (completely under the radar, I believe) and presented this as a curated source of ornaments for her first Christmas as a newlywed! I can’t imagine having the patience to maintain a collection like this in secret for several decades (and what happens if grandkids don’t get married? Surely, eventually, you have to give them the ornaments?!).

ornaments 2020

The math of this tradition is quite daunting. Assuming both children stay home until they are 20, in addition to our already full tree, we are poised to add another 50+ ornaments.

But we’ll make room. We’ll get rid of the old tattered ones, or even the glossy ones that have no character. And someday I’m sure my heart will break – like a few of the ornaments already have – when a box of ornaments leaves my house to go adorn another tree.

But I hope they’ll be happy in their new homes, starting their own traditions, and have nothing but (mostly) happy memories of Christmases past.

Do you have any Christmas Eve gift traditions? Do you collect a new ornament to commemorate special events like a new job or family vacation?

Peek Into Our Christmas: Favourite Holiday Movies

There is something so festive about holiday movies. You can watch Les Misérables or Beauty and the Beast any time of year. But Home Alone oozes holiday vibes – it is set at Christmas, after all – and I believe it requires twinkle lights and cozy blankets to truly be appreciated (bonus points if hot chocolate and candy canes are involved).

While I do love a good Hallmark movie, I won’t be listing those here (though I did really enjoy Ice Sculpture Christmas a few years back, FYI).

Today I’m going to talk about our family’s tried-and-true holiday classics. The movies we revisit each year, with characters that feel like long-lost friends. We curl up together and, even though we remember all the nuances of the plots (yes, Marv and Harry are going to end up being carted off to prison) we hold our breath at scary bits and we laugh at the funny jokes and we sing along to the songs we know by heart.

Without further ado, here are a few of our favourite holiday movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if you might find some overlap with well-loved classics in your household.

  • HOME ALONE | My parents were very careful about what media was consumed in our house growing up, yet we watched Home Alone every year. I do think we were watching the TV version, which likely edited out a few of the unsavory parts? I continue to mute a few sections because, well, my kids don’t need to hear or see clips from Angels with Dirty Faces (I’m looking at you: Merry Christmas you filthy animal). We also like Home Alone 2 and Home Alone 3, and the kids chuckled quite a bit during the latest release – Home Sweet Home Alone – but nothing quite beats the original.
  • DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966) | We watch this animated classic every year. It is amazing and I love it more with each re-watching. I have so many memories of this “movie” from Christmases of yore and the kids would be getting lumps of coal in their stockings if they didn’t join me on this bandwagon (thankfully they have, without coercion).
  • THE GRINCH | This was the first movie the kids saw in theatres and it did not disappoint. I am such a huge fan of the 1966 version (see above), but this reboot really did live up to all my expectations. Heartwarming and heartbreaking in all the right ways. It’s also very quotable; for example, “I myself use chocolate explosion” gets repeated regularly in our household and is sure to guarantee a laugh.
  • WHITE CHRISTMAS | Oh, White Christmas, how I love thee. Let me count the ways. I feel like this is either a you-love-it or you-hate-it movie? I happen to love it, but I think a lot of this stems from sentimental attachments to the film from my youth. It also helps that I’ve paired it with a movie-viewing party with one of my best friends each December and I look forward to this night every year. I’ve seen this movie so many times (but now limit it to ONLY ONCE A CHRISTMAS SEASON), and each year when we start watching it, I can’t believe it wasn’t just yesterday we sat down to watch it for the previous year. *Update: this very special movie event is happening tonight. Tonight!! Cue the cozy blankets, warm mugs of decaf chai tea, and singing along to our hearts content.
  • CHARLIE BROWN’S CHRISTMAS | We watch this each year…and each year I find it both awkward and sad (some of the characters are just plain mean) and wonderful. Hearing the Christmas story presented so clearly and in such a wonderful way never ceases to delight.
  • MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET | I have to admit I’m partial to the 1947 version. Just a classic feel-good story, but with lots of twists.
  • ELF | There’s potty humour. There’s awkward family relationships. There’s Zooey Deschanel’s voice. There’s Will Farrell as a human snowball-throwing machine. What more could you want? We just went and watched this movie over the weekend at a local theatre (who is hosting free weekend movies over the Christmas season). So fun.

some other options

Last year The Santa Clause series (with Tim Allan) and Christmas Chronicles (a relatively new set of releases from Netflix) were both hits with the kids, and they watched Merry Christmas Mr. Bean for the first time and it got lots of chuckles as well. I grew up watching Ernest Saves Christmas, though I have to admit it didn’t seem as funny when I re-watched it as an adult?!

I have never seen The Christmas Story but know it’s a classic and I’ll finally get to meet Ralphie and his crew at another of those aforementioned free movie screenings over the holiday season. I’m looking forward to it!

Now tell me – are there any must-see holiday movies in your household?

Header photo by Samira Rahi on Unsplash

Peek Into Our Christmas: Annual Holiday Cards

It is cold and it is wet and I am just not feeling great about it. I had no problem feeling grateful last Friday during our temporary water crisis (that could have been so much worse!) but today…not so much. After what feels like an entire month of cold, grey, soggy days, I’m very much “over” this weather. The 10-day forecast is not helping my optimism. So far today we’ve had: snow, freezing rain, and plain old-fashioned regular rain and that’s basically what’s on tap for as far in the future as the local meteorologists care to speculate. Sigh.

I’m currently in bed with two Magic Bags preparing to take a nap. Now that I think of it…I am grateful for the flexibility of working from home. And, also, it has been too long since I took a nap, so I guess I’m grateful to the rain for pushing me to this state of mind.

But let’s think about happier times, shall we? How about Christmas cards – one of my favourite dopamine hits of the season is opening up our mailbox to see a new stack of cards in the mail. And I got most of mine in the mail last week (my earliest distribution ever).

But, are you ready for this? You do NOT have to circulate Christmas cards. There are no holiday police that will ticket you for not participating in this tradition. Also, if you do it one year (because, through some miracle, you captured a great photo of the whole family looking directly at the camera without giant ketchup stains on their clothes), YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO IT EVERY YEAR.

I know people that send Valentine’s cards; others send New Year’s cards. Most send no cards of any sort and that is 100% okay.

Now that we have gotten that little disclaimer out of the way…let’s chat about Christmas cards (specifically photocards).

Most of our annual Christmas cards! Apparently, we are Merry and/or Bright most years…
Back side.

I am someone that sends cards each year. Stacks and stacks of them. One of my favourite modes of communication is through the written word – hence finally starting a blog in 2021. But I have a special place in my heart for letter-writing and already circulate monthly updates to family and friends (and every so often will collate those letters into a bound book). So it feels natural for me to prioritize this form of communication each Christmas.

how do you make your holiday cards?

One year I did design our card from scratch (the year Levi was born as I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough time to get them professionally printed, so I mocked something up and had a local printer run them off), but typically I just use prefab design options; my go-to source is Vistaprint.

I’ve already explained how we capture annual family photos – these are a low-key affair, so I’m not too fussed about the final product, although I do spend an inordinate amount of time debating what fonts to use. I don’t opt for special (expensive!) trimmings like foil or scalloped edges. Standard paper is my frugal jam.

Do you write a message to everyone?

Years ago I jumped on the mass-update bandwagon. I write a 2-page letter that summarizes the highlights from our year and I include that along with most of our Christmas cards (I don’t usually give this epic tome to neighbours or friends we see regularly). I make sure to leave a bit of white space at the bottom of the letter and I’ll include a few sentences that have personalized updates or questions: I might reminisce about seeing a particular family member during the year, inquire about grandkids/pets, or discuss an upcoming event that would be mutually interesting.

You can glimpse a sliver of my update letter under the mound of cards and Canada post paraphernalia. One page, two sides. I use plain printer paper and place some sort of black-and-white silhouette along the top of the front page to dress it up a bit. This particular border was recycled from 2019’s letter…

how much time does all this take?

Hmmm. I would say family pictures take about 2 hours (give or take depending on travel time). Then I spend 2-3 hours selecting and editing pictures and creating the photocard. I likely dedicate over an hour to preparing the annual update letter, and another hour writing personalized notes. This year I outsourced addressing envelopes to Abby (and no, I didn’t pay her!), so maybe another 30 minutes for that process + stuffing/stamping.

Overall, spread out over the course of a month, I likely invest about 10 hours into this holiday tradition. I don’t necessarily enjoy all aspects of the process (getting family photos has, at times, been an exhausting, sweaty, and demoralizing experience – though it’s getting ~1000x easier as the kids get older!), but it’s important to me because I value maintaining connections with family and friends, many of whom we don’t see very often.

So I do it. I’ve done it every year for over a decade and, Lord willing, I will do it for many decades to come!

Without further ado: our 2021 Christmas card. And, once again, we are “Merry.” A good state of mind for the holiday season…

Do you send Christmas cards (or photocards) each year? If so, what’s your process and how do you display the ones you receive?

Favourite Things: I Give Up…A Gift-Guide for Kids

Okay, let’s call a spade a spade. I think I have to admit this is a gift guide? Here are some ideas for youngsters – or the young at heart – based on things our family has received and loved.

We tend towards minimalism, so I like to avoid as many “extra” toys as possible. If it’s still around a year after Christmas, this means it found a real place in our lives.

In general, for our household, most gifts involve: sports, games, art, or being cozy. And LEGO. LEGO deserves its own category.

  1. MOVIE TICKETS | Whether this is actual tickets to see something in a theatre or vouchers for a family movie night at home with special snacks (one of the kids favourite things to do), movies are a fun experience-based gift.
  2. SPARKA SOFT BALL | I have a 7-year-old that lives and breathes for soccer. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say it is almost always on his mind. One of our most-used toys is the IKEA Sparka ball. It’s soft and squishy. It doesn’t hurt if it hits you in the face, but it still rolls pretty well. We have a long enclosed hallway and play soccer here every day. This ball is the only one we let the kids use in the house. *Update: we went to IKEA last weekend and bought 2 more and the kids were elated.
  3. CLEAR CANISTERS | This is a bit of an odd one, but it is a great way to display small toys. We have an assortment of glass canisters and vases (some from the DollarStore and a few salvaged from an abandoned cabin, oddly enough) for Abby to display random marbles, figurines, beads, excess Perler beads, and other colourful stuff that is hard to contain. If I had younger kids I’d opt for plastic!
  4. UNO | I’m not much of a games person, and I’ve cycled my fair share of them out the door to more receptive homes (I’m looking at you Hungry Hungry Hippos). But there are a few games I really enjoy playing. My favourite – UNO. We played hundreds of games of UNO during the first COVID lockdown. Other palatable games: Sorry, Aggravation, Mastermind, and Skip-bo. Shhhh, don’t tell, but a particular girl in our household is getting Codenames under the tree this year, which I also find fun.
  5. BOOKS | I wrote about this earlier in the week, but I tend to be a minimalist in the book department. We are constantly surrounded by books thanks to our weekly treks to the local library, but I’m hesitant to have too many overstaying their welcome. But they do make great gifts. We source most books second-hand, but this year I splurged ($12) and bought a new copy of the first Mysterious Benedict Society Book. Other hits include Harry Potter, the Boxcar Children and lots of the classics like The Wizard of Oz, Heidi, Roald Dahl books, and the Anne of Green Gables series.
  6. CUSTOM CALENDAR | For years I have created a custom calendar for Abby. I go back through our photos and pull the best from each month (e.g. for her birthday month on the calendar I will have pictures from her birthday a year earlier). I always opt for the largest size I can get, and take the time to add in relevant special events (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays). She loves to cross off each day, add her own to-dos, and we keep these in her special “treasures” bin once the year is over since they’re great snapshots – literally (with the pictures) and figuratively (all her handwritten notes) – of years gone by.
  7. PILLOW DESK | This is another item that gets used daily. For reading, writing, or drawing in bed + as a base for the laptop when the kids have sleepovers and we let them watch a movie in bed. *Update: just bought Levi one at a thrift store for Christmas.
  8. LEGO | I don’t know what to say here. It’s LEGO. It’s amazing. The kids love it. I love it (unless I step on a piece in the middle of the night and then I hate it). It’s classic. Find it new. Find it second hand. Just find it. I suppose there are some kids that don’t like LEGO, but I honestly can’t think of any in my kids social circle! It’s a magnet during playdates. There is going to be LEGO under our tree this year, as there always is!
  9. PLAIN WHITE PAPER | Neither child is too fond of colouring, but they both love to create their own works of art. Honestly, a reem of white paper is just the best thing (much cheaper than sketch pads). They use it respectfully (not wastefully), and if they want to store finished work in a binder we just use a 3-hole punch. I haven’t done this yet (I just store a package in my closet to dole out), but I think if I wrapped up a giant pack of printer paper and put it under the tree they would be giddy. *Update: We bought a 3-hole punch at a thrift store so the kids don’t need to use mine in the office – I think they’ll be thrilled to find this under the tree. Sometimes it makes sense to have multiples!
  10. MARKERS | See #9. They both love art. A nice set of markers is a great find. I’ve made the mistake of getting a huge set of markers which = too many choices. Less is more. I actually really like the markers from IKEA and try to have an extra set or two stashed away for when my kids run out or to add to a birthday party gift we might need to source at the last minute.
  11. ROBES | I didn’t have my first robe until I was a teenager, but both kids are die-hard robe fans. Warm, cozy, and a great way to protect school clothes at the breakfast table.
  12. A DESK | Because the kids love to draw and write, having their own desk is a great boost to supporting this passion. Levi actually got his first desk last weekend (our main birthday gift; we got another MICKE from IKEA – it’s $99 and Abby has the same one and has loved it for years). I’m excited to find fewer markers scattered over his bed.


  • CEREAL | My kids both love cereal, but I try to steer clear of the super sugary varities. At Christmas they each get one box of whatever sugary delight they want to try. Think Lucky Charms (no one was a fan, but they wanted to try it!) and Tim Horton’s Timbits. This year they’ll find Reese’s Puffs and Fruit Loops under the tree!
  • SLEDS | This is location specific, but some seasonal activity equipment is a great option. We go through sleds at an alarming rate, so a new sled or saucer is a great Christmas gift.
  • BALLS | Soccer, basketball, volleyball. It never seems like we can have too many balls.
  • NOTEBOOKS | Abby is at an age where she loves notebooks and there are always about 30 floating around her room being used for various writing projects. My favourite designation: our notebook for writing notes back-and-forth to each other, which hangs out on her bookshelf when it’s not in circulation. We don’t do it as often as we used to, but it’s so fun to come upstairs in an evening and find this notebook on my pillow with a note about her day (and usually asking when we can schedule a playdate with a friend). It’s also a great way to discuss hard topics, re-affirm love after a tough day of parenting, or share exciting news!
  • HOTEL ADVENTURE | Our kids LOVE to overnight in the hotel. If you shop sales, it can be very afforable. Plus, my logic includes the fact we always make sure to find a hotel with a pool (worth at least $40) + Continental breakfast (worth $40+), and we make a movie night in the hotel room (another $40+).
  • LETTER-WRITING KIT | Years ago someone gifted Abby with a letter-writing kit. Inside a small tote they included an address book (with some addresses already entered for family members), stamps, pre-labeled envelopes, stock thank-you cards (where you just had to fill in relevant information), and nice note paper. She still stores all her letter gear in here, and I think it’s a great idea!
  • AUDIOBOOKS | Our kids LOVE audiobooks. We have an old Android phone we use to download audiobooks; mostly free from Hoopla/Libby, but I have friends that have bought their children special audiobooks “for keeps.”
  • GIFT CARDS | Perhaps too obvious, but I think that a gift card (with thoughtful intent) can be a great idea for kids. For example, a few years ago someone gifted Abby a $15 card to McDonalds along with a note promising to take her there to spend it. They went and it made for a very special memory. This year we’re gifting Abby a voucher to a local coffee shop so she can take (and pay for) an outing with one of her friends. Whether it’s for the movies, Amazon, a local toy store, or a restaurant – the sky is the limit with gift cards!

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given to a pint-sized person in your life? Any special gifts you remember from your own childhood?

Favourite Things: A Pseudo-Gift Guide for Husbands, Fathers, Brothers and More

I think buying gifts for the special men in our lives – the brothers and husbands and fathers and teachers – gets a bad rap. Admittedly, it’s a bit tougher than throwing a scented candle and tea towel into a gift bag and calling it a day (though I did give my husband a maple-scented candle with a wooden wick last Christmas and it was one of his favourite gifts!), but I think the ideas below strike the right balance of fun and practical.

These are favourites, but not all necessarily small enough to fit in a stocking (or economical for years with a smaller budget). I tend to buy one or two large items each Christmas, and the rest is pretty small stocking-stuffer variety. We have and enjoy all the items below, but they’ve been accumulated over a number of years. Sometimes when I see gift guides I get the sense people have purchased ALL the items in a single year. That is definitely not the case in our household!

  1. A SLEEK LAPTOP BOOKBAG | My husband (pre-COVID) had to travel a lot for work. In addition to carting around his luggage – he only travels with carry-ons – he has lots of tech accessories to bring along, plus passports and other travel documents to access. I ended up buying him the Solo Pro 15.6″ Backpack. It’s compact but has pockets in all the right places, and he’s loved it (the only thing missing is a luggage strap). I had actually ordered a few bags at various price points and this was the clear winner. *Update: he just returned from a work trip and one of the zippers on this beloved bookbag is starting to fail. It came with a good warranty, though, and a replacement is in the works.
  2. DARN TOUGH SOCKS | It’s funny, isn’t it – when you’re a kid, nice socks seem like the lamest gift you could find under the Christmas tree. But then, when you get older, there isn’t anything more satisfying than opening a great pair of socks. There are always socks under our tree. At least one set is whimsical – Star Wars themed more often than not, though I gifted a set of bacon-and-egg socks last month for a birthday. The running favourites are from Darn Tough. Made of merino wool, this Vermont-based company makes great socks with a replacement guarantee. We’ve actually worn through a number of pairs and they replace them everytime. I keep buying more because of their great exchange policy!
  3. SPECIALTY HOT SAUCE | So this gift would fall completely flat for me, but I know a lot of people really appreciate hot sauces and it can be fun to elevate things beyond store-brand sriracha. My husband happens to love hot sauces – the higher on the Scoville scale the better – but the flavour has to be great too. A nice hot sauce makes a great stocking stuffer. I recently bought a Dawson’s Hot Sauce with ghost peppers that has gotten rave reviews.
  4. A GOOD SHOVEL | This is obviously location-specific (ditto on the gloves below), but for anyone dealing with regular snow removal, having the right tools can go a long way. Last year we bought a Snow-Joe shovel from Home Depot and the whole family was always fighting over who got to use it when we had a blizzard. The shovel was light and the unique flexible second handle made clearing snow faster, more efficient and – dare I say – fun? This year I bought a second one for our family and wrapped one up for my father.
  5. APPLE DEVICES | A repeat from yesterday’s list, but these are runaway favourites in our house. Big investments, but if you source older models or second-hand items, they can still be affordable.
  6. CORD STORAGE | This is another great gift for the tech-saavy person in your life, especially if they travel frequently. I bought the Bagsmart Travel Cable Organizer and it has been superb.
  7. GOOGLE NEST | These are wonderful little speakers; we have some smart plugs and light bulbs that work via voice activation and with a Spotify account (see below) these are a great way to fill the house with music…or request a joke at 7 am.
  8. WATER COOLER | We go through a lot of water in our house, but no one is particularly keen on the chlorinated variety coming from the tap (we do cook and make coffee/tea with tap water, so consume lots of it every day to ensure we get the benefits of the flouride). As the kids got older, it was impossible to keep enough cold Brita-filtered water in the fridge. John had expressed interest in a water cooler for years but I always shot the idea down. For one thing, I hated the aesthetic of the bulky white varieties and, more practically, I didn’t want to be juggling full water jugs into an upside down position – it seemed destined to end in disaster eventually. Enter the Whirlpool bottom-loading version. It’s sleek. It has a self-cleaning function. And we use it every. single. day. We don’t use the hot water function (and have actually turned this off entirely), but I know people that love having easy access to hot water for steeping tea or making hot chocolate. We get our water (free!) from a local spring and have two water jugs that we rotate through the water cooler. I consider this one of my best Christmas gifts ever!
  9. FINGER GLOVES | Someone gifted John a pair of Columbia finger gloves years ago and they still get so much use. They’re supposed to be touchscreen compatible (they’re not), but they are wonderful for in-between weather. They’re thicker/warmer than regular “Magic” gloves, look a lot nicer, and are warm enough to wear throughout the fall and on warmer winter days.
  10. ERGODRIVEN TOPO MAT | This is a niche product but since we have a standing desk in our office, it’s regularly in use. This is basically an anti-fatigue mat on steroids. It has unique contours that are really helpful for shifting and supporting your feet when standing for extended periods.
  11. SPOTIFY | A few years ago a friend of mine got a 6-month Spotify membership as part of a Christmas gift exchange and I thought that was such a great idea! I use our account daily, and it really does beat sourcing music on YouTube. You can download playlists to access them offline (on a roadrip, when you’re out for a jog) and basically every song you can think of is available with just a click of a button. Now excuse me while I go put on some Christmas tunes…
  12. LEGO | We are huge LEGO lovers in this household and there are no age restrictions. Each year I buy a Star Wars LEGO set for John (and the kids). It’s a favourite Boxing Day tradition to work on building this together before setting it up with the rest of the collection in our home office.
LEGO unboxing reaction Christmas 2020


  • FUN SHIRTs | I try to source a graphic T-shirt each year; usually it involves a Star Wars theme. Our favourite so far was a The Darth Face shirt.
  • HIGH-QUALITY FOOTWEAR | We’ve jumped on the Blundstone bandwagon – pricy but a great neutral shoe that comes in styles that can easily be dressed up (work, church) and down (running errands or walking around the neighbourhood).
  • BOOKS | For a few years I bought John a biography every Christmas. Books are like socks – kind of boring when you’re a kid, but some of the best gifts as an adult. I always buy my Dad a book (often second-hand).
  • BBQ GEAR | Like the hot sauce, a specialty BBQ sauce or specific tool (a nice BBQ lighter or special tongs) can make a great gift.
  • FOOD | Beef jerky, a special cereal, candied pecans. One of our friend makes homemade butter tarts as Christmas gifts and they’re delicious! I always give special treats at Christmas.
  • GIFT CARDS | This is my go-to gift for teachers; I pick a local coffee shop, grab a certificate and consider things good-to-go. Cabella’s, Amazon, the Apple Store, restaurants, movie tickets. There’s a reason there are so many gift card options – they’re pretty swell.
  • A GOOD FLASHLIGHT | Because a good flashlight is just so darn practical to have around and I have gifted a number of them over the years.

Any go-to gifts I should add to my running list for Christmas 2022?

Why Learning the Mundane Details of Someone’s Life Fosters Attachment

My father-in-law visited recently. It has been a long separation – nearly two years – due to COVID. I try to keep everyone engaged through lengthy family updates and accompanying pictures. But after two years of Skype calls and e-mails, we all know it’s just not the same.

His visit included some fun adventures, but what he seemed to enjoy most of all was getting a sense of our daily routines.

He learned the route we take when we walk to school each morning. He saw the small shelf in the dining room where I store our current reading selections. He familiarized himself with our kitchen cupboards – learning where to find the cutlery and his favourite coffee mug. He knew where to find light switches in the dark and grew accustomed to how we load our dishwasher. He learned where we stored basketballs and soccer balls (and never had any trouble finding willing companions for a pick-up game).

He took pictures the morning he left for home – one of us all geared up for the walk to school, another of me reading to the kids while they ate breakfast. He took one of the guest room, his home for two weeks. He snapped another of the outside of our house before it gets a facelift. All unremarkable, mundane things. Yet knowing the intricacies of these small things feels big.

Knowing where someone stores their vegetable peeler might just make you feel more connected than having a long conversation over coffee.

It reminds me of Gretchen Rubin’s suggestion to take pictures of usual things:

Instead of taking photos of unusual sights, take a photo of the most usual sights. In the future, you’ll be a lot more interested in seeing a photo of your dorm-room closet or your laundromat than seeing a photo of the Louvre.

Gretchen Rubin

I’d love to have a photo of my closet from university days – I know it was tiny and didn’t even have a door, just a small curtain pulled across it (which, for the life of me, I frustratingly can’t remember the colour of…and this haunts me).

My father-in-law came to the bus stop each day. He learned the driveway where I wait, the names of the friends that would tumble out alongside his grandkids; he now knows, to the minute, when the bus arrives. He also joined us on our daily commute to school morning after morning. He said hello to the crossing guard and saw the giant concrete pillar my son likes to climb up every morning.

Sure, I describe a lot of things in my family update e-mails (they are shockingly thorough). But reading about the route to school and actually walking it are two very different things.

Saturday Bonus <> I Need to Heed My Own Advice – On Adding Buffers

After five years of organizing after-school pickup, I was beyond relieved to jump on the bussing bandwagon last year.

We enjoy walking to school and, pre-COVID, the hassle of after-school pickup (having to arrive 25 minutes early to find a parking spot) was offset by the fact that a large and dedicated group of parents + kids stayed after school to play and chat. This was my favourite way to pass the time between school dismissal and supper.

But then came COVID. We started the 2020 academic year with a wave of new restrictions – including shutting down the playground for an entire hour after school dismissal. Without any impetus to do pickup, I gladly signed our kids up for the afternoon bus.

The registration process went smoothly and I received notice of their very specific drop-off time. And, for over a year, the bus has dutifully arrived at that very specific time – almost without exception.

Then a few weeks ago, because of a mechanical issue, the bus arrived 30 minutes late. The next day it was 10 minutes late. And then, ever since, it has been arriving 3 minutes earlier.

Three minutes is a long time when my walk to the bus stop only takes a little over 3 minutes. If parents aren’t at the bus stop to meet children in Grade 3 and below, they bus those kids back to school and contact parents for in-person pickup. This has never happened to us, but the stress and disruption of that process would not be ideal.

So I make every effort to be on time.

The problem is I have had a very specific schedule for over a year now – I need to leave the house at 2:47 to make it to the bus stop with a few minutes buffer. This no longer works. With the bus arriving 3 minutes earlier, it’s a case of very simple math that I no longer have any buffer. In fact, I’m running late.

After having the same cues for over a year – 2:47 I need to be out the door; 2:48, I need to speed walk; 2:49 I need to run; 2:50 I need to sprint – I’m struggling to accept the reality that all those times are no longer relevant. In fact, now, a 2:47 departure requires a sprint, not a leisurely stroll.

So earlier this week, when I looked at the clock (after yet another afternoon of sprinting in my not-made-for-sprinting footwear) and saw it was 2:45, even though my mind told me I had buffer, I forced myself to get dressed and out the door. I enjoyed a leisurely walk to the bus and arrived early, with the perfect amount of buffer. Time for small talk with the rest of the congregants, but no time to get bored or cold.

Yet another reminder, adding a little bit of buffer can go a long way in making life more pleasant (and convenient – I really don’t want to have to drive back to school to rescue my child)!

Here’s to establishing more buffer…again.

Destination Nova Scotia: Cabot Trail + Cape Breton

Around this time last year our family completed a trek around the Cabot Trail – a 300 km highway that winds through the Cape Breton Highlands offering stunning views of the ocean, woodlands, and other-worldly rock formations.

There are countless itineraries put forward by travel bloggers and Tourism Nova Scotia. This is not going to be of that sort of caliber. I didn’t actually research very much. We were traveling close to the Thanksgiving/fall foliage peak season (even during COVID conditions) and accommodation choices were limited. We didn’t book a whale-watching excursion or eat fresh seafood or overnight in a yurt. But it was a great family trip, nonetheless.

Before we even got out the door, our trip hit a major snag. Somehow, despite it being a last-minute vacation, we managed to book all our accommodations for the WRONG weekend. A few days after booking, John woke one morning with the vague sense something was wrong and quickly realized we had selected the wrong dates! Aside from one of our accommodations, we were able to maintain accommodations at the same locations…although that one change ended up being quite memorable (and not for the best of reasons). 

day ONE

We picked the kids up from school at lunchtime on a Thursday and started the trek toward Cape Breton. The kids were phenomenal in the car. We ate lunch in the car en route (I packed a bento-style, self-contained lunch for each of the kids) and then we stopped for a picnic supper at a lighthouse along the way, before heading off to our final stop of the day: Sydney.

I did not get them to pose like this; not sure what inspired them to adopt this stance, but I think it’s adorable, even if it does look staged!

We ended up arriving in Sydney around 6:00 pm. After checking in at our hotel, we decided to explore the waterfront boardwalk and visit the World’s Largest Fiddle, which we could see from our hotel window.

On our way to collect warm coats from the car, Levi tripped in the parking lot, getting some nasty abrasions on his hand with various rock shards embedded for good measure. Poor fella. We got First Aid supplies from the front desk and John and Abby headed off alone while I tended to the walking wounded. Levi made a speedy recovery, though his hand was a bit sore the rest of the weekend.

One of the main reasons we selected our hotel was because of its advertised waterslide. Our kids, like most others, love hotel waterslides. Because of COVID restrictions, we had to book a pool time, and they were elated when our allotted time finally arrived. Enthusiasm waned quickly; the pool was cold, the waterslide was cordoned off, and the hot tub was drained. Hmmm. Win some, lose some. We stayed for 15 minutes – long enough that everyone was freezing and soaked – and then piled back into our hotel room for hot showers and an early evening of popcorn and a movie, which is often the highlight of these trips for our kids anyway.

DAY two

Friday morning we woke early, tried again to visit the giant fiddle as a family (this time with success), and spent the rest of the morning at Louisbourg.

After Peggy’s Cove, Louisbourg’s is likely the second most iconic lighthouse in Nova Scotia.

The lighthouse was stunning and gave great views of the fortress across the harbour. There were rocks for climbing (basically all that is required for our kids to have a good time), and a pile of rubble from the original lighthouse – the first in North America to be constructed with fireproof building materials.

While COVID had forced the staff of Louisbourg to stop many of their regular demonstrations, we were impressed with the scale of the fortress and had a fun time exploring the grounds.

Next up was Ingonish. In my quick-and-dirty research leading up to our trip – and given our family’s penchant for lighthouses – I thought I had found a winning ticket. A lighthouse converted into ice cream parlour. Yes, please! It required a detour (40 minutes round trip) and I had been unable to get confirmation the site was still open for the 2020 season. We decided to go for it.

It was closed. Whomp, whomp.

We made up for that disappointment with a great hike that started on the perimeter of the famous Keltic Lodge (Middle Head Trail). We randomly found a geocache, which the kids were delighted about, and it felt good to stretch our legs after lots of car time.

It was interesting how few locations there were for eating/sleeping on the Cabot Trail itself. Finding a place open/available (we found a spot that had incredible reviews online, but it was over an hour wait just to get a table!) for supper was more challenging than we imagined, but we finally managed to get some takeout pizza (I ate food we’d brought from home, see below) and retreated to our hotel room for a movie and supper. 

This was the motel we had switched to when we were forced to rebook after realizing our date error (originally, we were slated to stay at well-reviewed cabins).

There was a reason there was an opening at this motel. From water stains in the bathroom to bugs on the floor to doors that didn’t close properly, this location didn’t instill much confidence. But there was nowhere else to go and really, how bad could it be?

We woke in the night to people socializing – loudly – outside our window. When I finally got back to sleep, I woke up to the sound of torrential rain. It wasn’t a great night of sleep. I was relieved when morning arrived, and we had positive attitudes – looking forward to moving on. And then we started the shower. Within a few minutes, the entire hotel room floor was flooded in water. We could see where they had patched the plumbing and it was easy to identify the source of the leak. When John went to check out and informed the front desk of the issue, he said they didn’t even act surprised. Needless to say, we did not stay for the free breakfast and will not be returning to that location again!

day Three

Saturday was the “big” day as we had eyes on hiking the Skyline Trail, which has arguably the most famous view along the Cabot Trail. I’ve already written an entire post about this adventure. We hiked the whole loop, which was about 8 km, and the views were stunning.

We’d had some drizzle and fog earlier in the day, but with the tremendous views, we couldn’t have been happier. We also timed it right. When we arrived about 10:30, the parking lot was mostly empty. When we returned it was absolutely jammed with cars!

We stopped in Cheticamp and found some lighthouses, including one with a built-in slide. The kids absolutely LOVED this and spent a happy half-hour sliding and climbing. John and I each went down the slide and once was enough. Phew, it was much steeper and faster than it looked (I actually had bruises from it), but the kids knew no fear!

We walked along the Inverness Boardwalk, drove through Margaree Harbour and ended up in Port Hawkesbury for the night. We were all tired, so McDonalds across the street was our fancy supper (we took food along for at least 1 picnic meal/day). After a good night’s sleep, we hummed and hawed about going to the pool. After the disappointment of the previous hotel pool (and all the effort that goes into getting dressed, going down, and then promptly getting out), none of us was convinced. Well…we went and it was wonderful. It was warm and we had it entirely to ourselves. Levi practiced swimming from side to side, Abby did flips and tricks and we all left happy.

From there it was back to Wolfville. A fun long weekend. Lots of driving, but the kids were phenomenal (we let them watch downloaded videos on some of the longer stints, but they were mostly contented to watch the views most of the way).

A quick note about food

I was in the middle of an elimination diet (no gluten, no peanut butter, no coffee, no soy, no dairy), so I was already planning to bring along lots of food items. But, as a great way to save, we also packed food appropriate for daily picnics.

This was the main launch point for our PB&J summer – I took a package of brioche buns, a bottle of peanut butter, and a bottle of jam. We took ice, so the first day had tuna filling, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and gluten-free crackers. I also brought along things like apples and carrot sticks; we had mini-fridges at night, but these items were okay to be in the cool, but not cold, environment of the trunk. We also took nuts/seeds, dried fruit, granola bars, crackers, and tinned sardines/smoked oysters (both of which our kids love). We ate breakfast and supper out each day (I would often just piece together fruit/proteins we brought from home for myself), but ate lunches/snacks on the go which made our travel more efficient and cheaper!